By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER
Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiba were called upon to offer prayerful intercession for a community desperately afflicted by drought (Taanit 25B). Rabbi Eliezer, leading the congregation in prayer, intoned 24 blessings beseeching God’s mercy. His protracted pleas went unanswered.
Akiba offered a simple prayer: “Our Father, our King, we have no king but You. Our Father, our King, show us mercy for Your sake” — and life-giving rains fell in abundance. The Rabbis concluded that Akiba’s prayer was deemed worthy because he was maavir al midotav – he practiced the virtue of forbearance.
According to Rashi, forbearance means not insisting on retaliating or lashing out against those who offend us: “Heaven is patient and forgiving of our personal transgressions to a degree commensurate with the forbearance we show others” (Rosh Hashanah 17A).
It is, alas, human nature to avenge ourselves when attacked, to strike back reflexively, to counter-punch. Rabbi Akiba (and his spiritual charges) were rewarded because he resisted this base, pugilistic instinct. “We have no king but You,” Akiba understood: God’s favorable judgment is infinitely more important than the satisfaction derived from responding to the “slings and arrows” of human detractors.
Rabbi Akiba’s contemporary, Roman Emperor (and Stoic philosopher) Marcus Aurelius, agreed: “The best revenge is to be unlike the one who committed the injury.”